Chris Powell: The case of the criminal professor


Should the people of Connecticut, through their elected representatives, set standards for employment in state government? Last week the General Assembly's Labor and Public Employees Committee responded resoundingly "no."

At issue was last year's promotion by the Board of Regents for Higher Education of a professor at Central Connecticut State University, Ravi Shankar, while he was in prison. The board said it did not know of the professor’s ever-lengthening criminal record, but the university officials who recommended his promotion knew.

So some legislators proposed requiring state universities to make criminal- background checks on candidates for promotion. Two legislative committees approved the bill but the labor committee, dominated by tools of the government employee unions, killed it.

Why? Because the committee's House chairman, Peter A. Tercyak (D-New Britain), home to CCSU and presumably many of its employees, maintains that standards for employment in government should be determined not through the ordinary democratic process but by collective bargaining with government employee unions. Further, Tercyak says, academic promotions should be based only on "academic and student-related concerns."

Besides, Tercyak adds, judging government employees by their criminal records would contradict Gov. Dannel Malloy's initiative for a "second-chance society."

But if basic employment standards are to be negotiated with government employees, there won't be any standards, and, worse, the people will not be sovereign in their own institutions, though of course legislators and governors often have compromised the public's sovereignty in favor of this special interest.

Indeed, to say that only "academic and student-related concerns" should determine promotions is to say that there should be no standards -- that if murderers, rapists, robbers, thieves, and such commit their misconduct off campus, it’s not the business of the government educational institution that employs them.

As for the "second-chance society," the governor has explained it as facilitating the rehabilitation of young men who have gone to prison because of poor upbringing and drugs and who can’t get jobs and housing upon their release. Second chances would be given when sentences had been served and crimes had stopped, and would not necessarily involve prestigious offices such as that of professor.

But that professor at Central was not just in prison when he was promoted; he faces still more criminal charges.

State law already gives state university employees power to nullify state freedom-of-information law if their unions obtain contract provisions blocking public access to their personnel files, a law by which the public's right to accountable government is forfeited.

Public sovereignty also was being forfeited last week as the House approved a bill to require the state education commissioner to have five years of classroom teaching experience and three years of experience in school administration.

The bill thus would prevent appointment of a commissioner who wasn't already the tool of the education lobby, whose brain hadn't already been turned to mush by teacher training courses, and who wasn't already committed to the education bureaucracy's techniques of concealment, deception, and incomprehensibility.

The measure arises from the resentment of teacher unions developed for the previous education commissioner, Stefan Pryor, who had no background in education administration and pressed Governor Malloy's agenda for raising standards for teachers, an agenda from which the governor retreated. But at least Pryor was often incomprehensible.

Meanwhile, former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim, convicted and imprisoned for taking bribes, is running for mayor again. If Shankar and Ganim are to be what is meant by second chances in Connecticut, the public interest has no chance at all.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, based in Manchester.